The hypothesis behind the RhetHistoria blog is this: Rhetoric theory and history has (have?) something to contribute to the broad public world, and [implied subtext] rhetoric scholars should get out of their ivory towers and try to share that knowledge more broadly and have more of a public presence. It isn’t enough any more for scholars and researchers to just be publishing and presenting for ourselves; we have to address a broader audience — outside the field, outside the academy, in different disciplines and professions, in the public realm. (WHY? Because the discourse of the public realm needs a lot of help right now.) We have to learn how to “take rhetoric on the road.” Can a blog help us accomplish that goal?
In conjunction with this project, I’ve noticed what I think is a new genre emerging: the research blog. I would define that genre as a professional, disciplinary blog — sometimes written by an individual, sometimes by a collection of authors — that identifies, summarizes, critiques, and shares preliminary research in a public, collaborative way. I’m not talking here about formal publication — what an online journal would do. I’m talking about the use of blogs as an exploratory inventional tool, as a way to share resources, to present preliminary findings-in-progress, and to discuss trends and possibilities. This kind of blog makes the preliminary stages of research and inquiry more public and more collaborative: in essence, it’s the use of an Internet writing tool to deploy the wisdom of the crowd earlier in the research process and in the service of invention. Was there an analog version of this? Sure. In the old days we used to talk with colleagues, share ideas with our peers, have brainstorming sessions, get feedback on early drafts, etc. But it was much more limited and much more local. It didn’t involve large numbers of collaborators or have the media power (potential power anyway) of the Internet behind it.
Terra Nova is my paradigm model of an excellent multiauthored research blog, one with a very long history (“long” in blog terms … it’s been around since 2003). It is THE primary research tool for those who want to keep up with developments in the realm of virtual world research: that is, research on video games, simulated worlds (Second Life), MMOGs, and the like. It has a lot of announcements: news postings about upcoming or past conferences. But it also does short think pieces and opinion pieces as well; it gets a lot of comments. Edward Castronova and Lisa Galarneau are frequent posters.
My paradigm example of an individual research blog is Clay Spinuzzi’s blog. Clay uses this blog as a place to collect his reading notes and to comment on what he’s read. By doing his research publicly, he’s able to get feedback and commentary on what he’s thinking, people can recommend sources, etc.
Another paradigm example of an individual research blog is Clancy Ratliff’s Culture Cat: Rhetoric and Feminism. I would call it a research blog, but it’s definitely a more personal kind of blog than Spinuzzi’s. She includes more personal material, but she also does broader cultural critique than Spinuzzi. It combines the personal and the professional in an interesting way. See, for example, “Am I an Expressivist?“.
So what is RhetHistoria? I would say it’s a combination of a research blog and an effort to apply rhetoric research more broadly. I would also say that its identity hasn’t fully emerged yet. It might become something else altogether, depending on what we all post, how we say it, and what attention, if any, we garner from the effort. First and foremost, RhetHistoria is an experiment: to see what if any value accrues from the collaborative effort to make scholarly rhetoric inquiry public.
Analysis of specific blog postings
Both of the recent posts to RhetHistoria — Chanon’s “The Delivery is the Message:The Podium Design of Obama’s DNC Speech” and Stephanie’s “Culturism is a New Word” — are excellent examples of what I’d hoped the RhetHistoria blog would do: That is, connect rhetoric to contemporary events, show how rhetoric can be helpful as a critical tool for understanding and critiquing contemporary events, cultural happenings and attitudes, pop culture, politics, books, media moments, cant phrases, etc. Both Chanon and Stephanie use rhetorical methods and terminology but they are writing for than merely an academic rhetoric/composition audience; they are writing for a broader educated public audience.
Spinuzzi, “Reading :: A Better Pencil”
– Most of Spinuzzi’s postings are like this one: notes and reactions to what he happens to be reading.
Coyle, “When Saying ‘I’m Sorry’ Isn’t Enough”
– This is a more formal report on research findings from my colleague in AIMS, Jim Coyle. This report is aimed at a professional audience of business managers and executives, I would say, explaining how Twitter can help their business (but only if it is deployed properly and adequately supported).
Blogs in Rhetoric/Composition
Blogora (The Rhetoric Society of America)